China: Be the best, screw the rest

13 Nov

typhoonThis week saw the world’s biggest ever shopping event. It was in China, obviously, where coming first at stuff has become a national pastime, and it was 11.11 day – an event made up by retailers to sell more shit on the country’s most popular e-commerce platforms, run by Alibaba.

Now I mention this because Alibaba recorded a staggering $5.78 billion in sales on that single day, double that of the year previously. If any event could define a nation at a single moment in time it would be this – Chinese shoppers scrabbling desperately to hoover up as many online bargains as possible, like so many chavs bursting down the doors of Primark on Boxing Day. Spend, spend, spend and forget the state-sanctioned human rights abuses, the endemic corruption, and the cancerous smog.

I also mention this because at the last count, China had failed to offer a single penny of aid to the typhoon-wracked Philippines. With large parts of the country totally and utterly flattened, thousands dead and an estimated 600,000 displaced, two-thirds of whom are still without food, water and medicine, it’s not a big ask. The Chinese Red Cross has offered a paltry $100,000 – not much but it’s something. Actually it’s 0.0017% of the money made in the 11.11 sales.

There are a few reasons why the response from the world’s second largest economy has been so feeble, and they offer a neat insight into the Chinese psyche, or more pertinently, the Communist Party’s priority list. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated recently over that old chestnut, territorial claims in the South China Sea. In this case, China is claiming a group of rocks known as the Spratlys just 100 miles away from the Philippines. Then there is the lingering anger at the lack of a formal apology from Philippines government for the 2010 hostage bungle, in which several Hong Kong tourists were killed when their bus was captured by terrorists in Manila.

Hong Kong, for the record, is still um-ing and ah-ing about official aid – waiting for a Legco ruling to approve a HK$40m disaster fund. This despite the fact that over 100,000 Filipino maids work in the SAR. In the meantime, local charities are taking the initiative themselves and seem to be doing ok. Even HSBC has donated more than $1 million. It also seems, according to my friends at Shanghaiist, that even the loyal state-run media in China is angry at Beijing’s lack of movement on this so far. When you’re being made to look miserly and petty by a bank, and the media outlets you control with an iron fist are having a pop, it’s probably time to rethink your position.

No wonder China’s soft power efforts are somewhere behind North Korea’s at times.

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